“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”-Luke 14:25
This is a reflective follow-up on Michelle’s observations in our last blog post.
We have just completed three years here: a short time for those who understand long-term missionary work and a long time for those accustomed to short-term experiences. For us, it is just a time to reflect. Michelle’s observation helped us realize that we have reached a significant phase in our time here. We had hoped that we could be a family to the children and her observations confirmed that our intentions are materializing. Family, however, is a complex concept. There are all kinds of families. There are hospitable families where outsiders are received with much warmth and openness. Yet, the separation still exists between friends and “real” family members. There are dysfunctional families where the bonds of affection are loose and fragile. Relationships are volatile and interchangeable in these families. There are the kind of close-knit families where no one else matters except the blood relationships. The list of diverse family dynamics can be almost infinite. However, we do not go into streets to introduce our brand of family. We are here with the conviction that it is God who is leading us to be a family to the children. Therefore, we have to consider what kind of family God wants us to be in the streets. Before we can get to this answer, we need to first heed the tough and difficult words of Jesus regarding our family ties.
No one in their right mind would say aloud the things Jesus proffered in the above verse from the gospel of Luke. These sayings are often allocated to the tough sayings of Jesus. Everyone recognizes them but their implications are rarely considered seriously in the church community, despite the fact that the first Christian community did honor them literally in the Acts of the Apostles. Families in the primitive church sold everything and came together to be one. Traditional family ties were given up in order to become part of a broader reality in the Kingdom of God. We could only imagine the criticisms that Peter and the other married apostles must have endured. Christianity must have been considered then as a religion that was disruptive to regular family dynamics. We think that it is different today but in reality, in some countries where Christianity is not the dominant religion such criticisms still exist. Many friends of mine who came from Taoist and Buddhist backgrounds said that their parents considered them as spiritual traitors when they accepted baptism into the Christian faith. Some parents even disowned them. However, most readers of the blog, including myself, live in a predominantly Christian environment. We don’t face such social and cultural pressures. Nevertheless, these powerful and disturbing words of Jesus still apply to us. They should still scandalize and challenge us to rethink our idea of family.
Our commonly held family values are not from the gospel but they are based on our cultural and societal customs. They are, in reality, just a sophisticated form of animalistic behavior. There is nothing remarkably new or excellent about them. On the other hand, the gospel brings a radically new and more excellent dimension to our understanding of a family. It challenges us to go beyond our animalistic instincts and become human. Jesus’ words do not destroy family values but restore a true and godly understanding of them. We define families along blood ties whereas Jesus presents God’s idea of a family. This is clearly seen in one particular incident in the gospel of Luke when Jesus was told that His mother and brothers were patiently waiting to speak to him;
But He answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.” -Luke 8:21
Family in the Kingdom of God is defined by our relationship to the Truth. We should not confuse this with doctrinal convictions. Hearing and doing the Truth is more than mere subscription to certain doctrines. It is a transformation of our attitudes. The first sign of this is reflected in our attitudes towards our neighbor.
Hearing and Doing the Truth does not mean that we have to abandon our families. At least, this won’t be necessary in our context. Jesus’ words are a challenge to us to evaluate and perhaps even abandon society’s restrictive concept of family in the Light of the gospel.
And no man puts new wine into old wineskins; else the new wine will burst the wineskins, and be spilled, and the wineskins shall be destroyed.-Luke 5:37
Ideally, our birth family is a training ground for us to learn how to love and accept others into our household. When our birth family becomes the be all and end all, then we fall into sin of idolatry. We need to discard the old in order to understand the value and beauty of the new concept of family that the gospel inaugurates. Discarding does not mean that we abandon them. It means that they should not keep us from accepting God’s richer and life-giving definition of family.
I want to bring this post back to the streets. God is teaching us to be a family. It is something new for all of us. A social worker once told me that he corrected a young teenage girl when she said that she considered him to be her father figure. He said that he will never be her father because he does not have the capability of accepting her into his household. I thought that it was tactless on his part to say these words to this young homeless girl. Nevertheless, he was being coherent with the world’s definition and standard of a family. However, by the grace of God, we are not social workers, not just us but all Christians. We have a higher calling . We are called to reconcile individuals back to the family of God. Social workers only deal with social problems. We are God’s children sent here to embrace those who do not know the true status of their existence as God’s children, as well.
I have been a son and a brother and Mary has been a daughter and sister. Now God has given us sons and daughters. Through the grace of God, we have become their father and mother. Many people who are living thousands of miles away from these children have adopted them through prayer as their grandchildren. Perhaps none of this would make sense to the world. It is a concept that is not common to them. They have to break away from their traditional ideas of what constitutes a family to understand this. Even then, it would still be impossible for anyone to do this until they have met the One who is the true Father of all. We have discovered our family in the streets and God has a family for you to discover as well. They may not be in the streets like ours but they are there somewhere waiting to be reconciled into God’s eternal family.